The European Space Agency, ESA, has chosen Thales Alenia Space to build the new Euclid cosmology satellite in a contract worth €322.5 million.
Scheduled for launch in 2020, Euclid will explore dark energy and dark matter, the essential but still mysterious ingredients in today’s “Standard Model’ of cosmology. In this model, the majority of matter in the universe is invisible (dark matter), and the universe is expanding at an increasing rate under the action of a still unknown energy source (dark energy).
ESA's selection of the satellite prime contractor follows its choice of the contractor for the payload module (PLM assigned to Astrium SAS of Toulouse), comprising a telescope and an optical bench hosting the instruments, announced earlier this year. The PLM contract will be incorporated into the overall prime contract, completing the tier-1 industrial team that will build the spacecraft.
During Phase B of the program, scheduled to end in the third quarter of 2014, the industrial team led by Thales Alenia Space will add tier-2 contractors, based on ESA’s best practices selection process for the procurement.
Euclid will be in an orbit around the second Lagrange point (L2) about one and a half million kilometres behind the Earth, when looking from the Sun, from where it will observe nearly all of the extragalactic sky (>15,000 deg²) for a period of six years. It will map the large-scale structure of the Universe by tiling individual 0.5 deg² fields, each observed for about 1.5 hours. The design drivers for this mission include survey speed and completeness, accurate and precise pointing, and strict stability of the measurement chain. Thales Alenia Space's design features an innovative pointing method, combining accuracy and agility, backed by a stable, precisely controlled thermal environment in a spacecraft design that largely draws on ESA's long technology heritage.
Euclid's 1.2-meter diameter telescope will feed two wide-field instruments, a visible light camera (VIS) and a near infrared spectro-photometer (NISP). This new mission will consolidate Europe’s position at the forefront of space cosmology, following Planck, the ESA satellite dedicated to exploration of the cosmic microwave background, also built by Thales Alenia Space.Scientists announced the initial results of the Planck mission earlier this year, in March.
Thales Alenia Space is a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Finmeccanica (33%).